No matter the size or shape of your space, Megan Crawley, of the Los Angeles-based interior design firm Homepolish, offers a few general rules for taking advantage of any outdoor space. “Scale anything that uses floor space on the small side and utilize the vertical space to its fullest potential,” she says. “This could include wall-mounted planters, tall, thin storage pieces, or lighting that is hung from above—the key is to avoid using floor space wherever possible,” she says.
You may also want to employ creative tricks you’d use in small indoor spaces, Crawley adds, such as installing a wall-mounted dining table that can be folded up when the space is used for lounging, or utilizing convertible furniture such as ottomans that can be grouped as a coffee table or pulled apart for extra seating. “Finally, I’d also recommend using horizontal stripes in your fabric and/or floor coverings” she says. “They really do make a space feel larger and they are always in style for outdoor.”
Keep reading for pro tips on optimizing your outdoor space—from a balcony to a backyard to anything in between—below.
An elevated balcony
First and foremost: Chicago-based interior designer Melissa Benham of Studio Gild says no balcony is too small to use. “Take advantage of every square inch by choosing a petite table and love seat or chairs that will instantly turn the little space you have into an outdoor retreat to drink your morning coffee, read the paper, or share a glass of wine with company,” she recommends.
You can create this atmosphere, suggests Shannon Wollack of Studio Life.Style, with minimal furniture: “A comfy chair, ottoman, and side table maximize a small balcony and allow you to utilize the space for curling up with a good book.” And to add utility to this space as well as an aesthetic boost, feng shui expert Dana Claudat suggests adding plant boxes to your balcony railing, filled with herbs that are “home-protective” and easy to grow like sage, lavender, and mint.
Tiny side yard
If you have green space, but it’s minimal, Jennie Bishop of Studio Gild says that the air space is important. “Consider a vertical garden to free up ground real estate,” she shares, noting this enables you to choose more than one functionality for your side-yard space.
If you share a wall here with a neighbor Julie Massucco Kleiner of Massucco Warner Miller, says to consider adding a bench along its length. “In San Francisco, where space is at a premium in backyards, we lined the retaining wall shared by a neighboring property with a long cozy bench, filling it with pillows, hanging plants and artwork above,” she says. “The space is a really cozy place for the couple and their children to hang out, or to have parties on.”
Though she also likes to set up side yards for lounging by adding hammocks, outdoor floor pillows, an outdoor chair or two, and lots of greenery, Claudat says these areas can also make for great meditation spaces or, if you’re so inclined, alfresco art studios.
For your patio, Brittany Zwicki of Studio Life.Style recommends keeping it simple. “A small BBQ is a simple and sleek way to get a small group together for a fun patio cookout,” she says.
If you have a larger space to work with, Kristen Ekeland of Studio Gild recommends avoiding a common pitfall (which may also apply to all other categories on this list)—uncomfortable seating. “Think of the patio as an extension of the living room,” she says. “Set up a seating area that compliments your interior design and choose furniture that is comfortable—because no matter how beautiful your patio is, you won’t want to be out there long if you only have stiff iron chairs to sit on.”
Claudat, meanwhile, encourages adding bright pops of color like oranges, reds, magentas, and violets. “Chairs and a table in bright hues are very magnetic, especially if you want to entertain or spend more time there yourself,” she says.
If you’re #blessed with a larger space, Benham suggests asking yourself some questions about how you’ll *realistically* use the space. “Do you enjoy entertaining? Install an outdoor firepit with ample seating,” she advises. “Do your kids need space to play? Keep an area of the yard more open and build a chic playhouse that will occupy them for hours.”
Whichever direction you go, Claudat tells me that because the backyard is a place of “abundance”, it should be utilized primarily to gather people you love. “[Think] big farm-style dining tables, big picnic benches…and of course, a great big garden is amazing,” she says. “I’m also a fan of solar string light systems and solar lanterns sprinkled through the yard so that at night, everything is enchanted and illuminated.”
To further utilize the space after dark, Wollack offers that you may also want to consider fashioning an alfresco movie theater of sorts. “It’s as simple as incorporating floor pillows, a projector, and a screen or sheet,” she says. “Add string lights and popcorn, and it’s the perfect movie night!”
As long as you’re outdoors, why not pack a picnic—even if it’s in your own backyard? Here’s everything you need, plus 10 healthy recipes to tuck into your basket.